The giant white statue of a warrior towers over the small island in Xiamen harbour and looks longingly to the east. 'Look there in the distance,' said the guide excitedly. 'There is Jinmen, the island where he set out to conquer Taiwan. We will get it back soon.' Zheng Chenggong, or Koxinga as he is known in the West, has replaced shells and propaganda balloons as the frontline weapon in Beijing's battle to win back Taiwan. In April 1661, Zheng set out from Jinmen, also known as Quemoy, with a fleet and 25,000 soldiers for Taiwan, where he surrounded the Dutch army that had controlled the island since 1630. After a nine-month siege, in which 1,600 or 80 per cent of their men died of disease or fighting, the Dutch surrendered, returning Taiwan to Chinese rule and giving China its first military victory over a Western power. The communists have turned this event into a giant propaganda tableau. The statue, put up in the late 1980s, dominates Xiamen's inner harbour and stands on the edge of Gulangyu, a delightful island full of spacious villas built by European consulates and rich overseas Chinese merchants. One of them, an imposing four-storey structure built by a Vietnamese-Chinese with lawns and palm trees, was turned in 1962 into the Zheng Chenggong Memorial Museum, visited by 300,000 tourists each year. The island was where Zheng gathered his troops for the invasion of Taiwan. The museum hammers home the message: 'Zheng enriched the people on both sides of the strait and made them closer in flesh and spirit . . . He is a national hero on both sides. He is the first unifier of the country.' But history is never so simple as the propaganda tableau. Zheng was not even a pure Chinese: he was born in 1624 in a village near Nagasaki of a half-Japanese mother and a pirate father and spent the first seven years of his life in Japan. The then Ming Dynasty was on its last legs and had banned foreign trade. Undeterred, Zheng's father set out to dominate the lucrative trading links between Japan, Taiwan, Southeast Asia and Fujian province, which he did by killing his competitors and forcing everyone to work through him. His wealth enabled Zheng, a smart and energetic boy, to get a university education and military training in China. The dynasty collapsed under the pressure of the victorious Qing army. Ever the opportunist, Zheng senior collaborated and accepted a senior post in the new government. But the son, choosing loyalty to the emperor over piety to his father, backed the Ming and led campaigns against the new dynasty. All failed. Cornered and facing defeat, he chose instead to attack Taiwan. He died just four months after his victory. The independent kingdom he set up lasted 21 years until 1683, when a Qing fleet took over the island. The emperor gave Zheng's many sons and grandsons positions in the government in different parts of China, to ensure they could not work together against him. The resonances with the 20th century are irresistible - Zheng as Chiang Kai-shek fleeing the new dynasty and seeking to re-establish the old one. The new rulers dangle attractive posts to Taiwan's rulers but threaten them with violence if they do not accept unification. Would Lee Teng-hui become vice-chairman of the National People's Congress and move to Beijing if he accepted reunification? 'No, times have changed,' museum guide Wang Shengyong said. 'We did not send officials to Hong Kong after the handover, nor will we to Taiwan. It will have even more autonomy than Hong Kong and can keep its own defence force.'